A Guide To Ann Arbor: Eating, Drinking

Submitted by Brian on August 24th, 2011 at 12:34 PM

I've been wanting to write this forever but only got around to it because TOC reminded me I should do it. I'll update this if I forgot anything and as warranted by changes.

angelos-m-burgers

via Angelo's, but don't get this because it doesn't have hollandaise on it.

So, you're coming to Ann Arbor to watch football. Welcome! Sorry about the frat guys who talk crap to you. At least they aren't throwing beer cans! (They totally would, but those things are ten cents, and in this economy DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM SAYING.)

I'm not much use when it comes to getting tickets or finding accommodations but I know where to eat and drink in this town. I had to go to Paris to confirm this, but it's true: Ann Arbor is a fantastic food town. You can get virtually anything here, and get it done well.

Unfortunately, some of the famous things are terribly overrated and it's really easy to walk into an overpriced restaurant run by Main Street Ventures. But that's what this is for, to prevent this from happening to you. There is also no doner kebab. I can't do anything about that, or I already would have.

Shorter Version Of This Post

If you need something to eat after you hit town and want quick takeout for tailgating, go to Frita Batidos or Satchel's. If you want to watch football go to Bar Louie. If you want to drink, go to Ashley's. Dinner is harder. Right now I'd say The Ravens Club is the most versatile.

Breakfast

I want to wait in line for some Hollandaise.

Angelo's is the quintessential Ann Arbor breakfast place, and it deserves its rep. They'll serve you raisin toast for a little bit extra and all the tables have a cinnamon sugar shaker and they've got deep fried French toast. I hear this is all very good.

I don't know because I didn't understand what the BFD was about Angelo's until about the third time I went there and I got eggs benedict. The hollandaise. This is what you should order. Accept no substitutes.

On a Sunday morning go early or late or prepare to wait. Your best bet is to avoid the church rushes; they don't take reservations.

I want a ridiculous pile of food no one could hope to finish.

The Broken Egg is Ann Arbor's premier purveyor of 2000 calorie breakfasts. They aren't great, but they're huge. It's not really my style—I'd rather just hit up one of the copious diners—but if you could eat a horse this is your jam.

I want brunch. Like brunch with crepes.

Café Zola is the best brunch-with-crepes sort of place in town. They also serve ludicrous waffles and… uh… half-pound burgers. Pricey for dinner. A tiny bit pricey for breakfast, but high quality.

I want eggs, toast, and coffee.

There are plenty of diners. The Cloverleaf is the downtown one I'm most familiar with. It is a diner. Benny's is also a diner, but it's famous because Michael Phelps ate there. If you're not from Michigan, a Coney Island is a diner that will serve you a hot dog with chili on it if you want them to. 

Lunch/Dinner

I would like to participate in the deli sandwich blood war.

When Andy Staples came to town he ran down the Great Sandwich War of Ann Arbor with exacting accuracy. Choose as you will.

I brought a jacket and would like to eat at the best restaurant in town.

Since Eve Aronoff closed her eponymous restaurant, this is almost certainly Logan. It will run you fancy dinner prices; it will be worth it. Reservations are a good idea. Get the fresh baked cookies for dessert.

SHIT JUST GOT REALI just want a burger.

That Eve person mentioned above opened a new place when she shut down her old one: Frita Batidos. They serve fritas, not burgers. Fritas (right, via Kitchen Chick) are Cuban sandwiches on round buns that are basically burgers except they're made of glory and chorizo. And can come with a fried egg and tropical coleslaw and avocado spread and Munster on them. Or be fish or turkey or a really really good black bean thing. And you can get milkshakes (batidos) with them and fried plantains. Or you could just get the Cuban sandwich, or some fried smelt, or churros that descend from the heavens accompanied by a chorus of angels. Just go here.

They do takeout. Therefore, this is the best possible idea for spur-of-the-moment road game "tailgating." You know what I'm talking about: you roll into a town you know nothing about and get Subway and wish you were at a home game. Frita will cure you of that malaise. The most convenient way to get there from the highway is to take the Main Street exit off M-14.

If you refuse to do this there is a Five Guys. You are disappointingly average. Boo you!

I would like to eat a fancy dinner or some small plates in my sports-themed attire near hipsters.

You are destined for The Grange, which opened about a year ago. The Grange is the only reason there's a qualifier before Logan's status as the best place in town.

It's one of those places that will tell you the life history of the pig you are eating. You will actually enjoy this because you will be having a burger with bacon jam—bacon jam!—and a little blue cheese croquette that is glorious, or duck poutine, or, like, food for adults that's just as good. 

When we went we were the only people not in t-shirts. If you want someplace that tastes fancy you can go after a game, this is it.

I want a reasonably priced American place.

Red Hawk is the best bar/grill/American place in town, and it's conveniently located near Ashley's.

I'd like to see these quaint Northerners try barbecue.

I used to recommend Blue Tractor but the last couple of times I've gone it's been not so good. It's also just a restaurant. A place called Satchel's opened up recently, though, and it features big benches and styrofoam plates with slabs of stuff on them and all manner of sauces and it seems pretty credible. I've lived in Texas, so I have an inkling of what I speak. This is also a good idea for road game tailgating, especially if you're exiting off US 23 at Washtenaw—it's right on the way.

I want ramen.

Tomukun is excellent.

I want pizza.

If you want fontina and grapes on your pizza, Silvio's is the place for you. Pricey, good, interesting. If you want a slice like Manhattan used to make, New York Pizza Depot, commonly known as NYPD, is a tasty approximation. Cottage Inn is widely reputed to be the best conventional place in town, and it is good. In my experience the takeout/delivery is actually a better idea than the restaurant.

It's 5AM.

The Fleetwood is open 24 hours and will give you a solid meal. It's a diner with a hippie twist. You win the prize if you go there and there's no one with dreads hanging around, looking derelict.

Other late night options: Pizza House's restaurant is open until 4 AM. Big Ten Burrito BTB is Ann Arbor's late-night face-stuffing burrito of choice.

I'm stuck on Main Street and want something that will please a group of disparate people, some of whom I'm beginning to hate because I'm quite hungry.

The Ravens Club is your best bet. Their menu varies wildly in price from 10 to 30 bucks, so you can choose what you're feeling up to, and it's all very good. They make excellent cocktails as well.

Other good options on Main are Prickly Pear, a Mexican restaurant with killer empanadas, and Middle Kingdom, a by-the-book Chinese place that's high quality but not mind-expanding.

I would like to cook my own meat, or I'm from South Korea.

seoul-garden-1seoul-garden-2

this is doing it right at Seoul Garden

Ann Arbor has a frighteningly authentic Korean restaurant called Seoul Garden that's conveniently located next to I-94 and Briarwood mall. If you are not Korean, be careful: this is not a place that pulls its punches. Once they had huge menu-wide specials on sea squirts, so we got some. Sea squirts turn out to be close relatives of barnacles. Trying to eat one is like trying to eat a tiny basketball full of salt water and bones. Another time we mistakenly ordered some cod roe soup. Cod roe is like eating those little packets of desiccants you find in beef jerky.

HOWEVA, if you sidestep the many pitfalls on the menu and just order some bulgogi or bi bim bop it's going to be good. They'll bring out delightful little bowls of ban chan that are always great and then you'll cook up some beef or pork belly at your table and put it in some lettuce with some rice and be just delighted with everything. If you get the bi bim bop get it in a stone bowl and you'll get fantastic crispy rice at the bottom of your meal.

You would not believe how poor I am.

Hello, student. BTB above is a good bet. Jerusalem Garden is a genuinely good Mediterranean joint that will stuff huge amounts of falafel in your face for five bucks. Ann Arbor also has the usual flock of Jimmy John's you'll find in any college town.

I would like Ann Arbor to leave a bad taste in my mouth. (IE: not recommended.)

Virtually every place on Main is overpriced for what it is. (Rent is killer.) The above-mentioned places are exceptions. As a general rule pick something just off Main over something on it. Skip anything from Main Street Ventures.

The Earle hasn't updated what it does since the 1960s. Blimpy Burger calls itself "cheaper than food" but is actually quite expensive and gets along on reputation these days. If you really like grease—like… you don't mind doing shots of it—I guess it's cool.

People will kill me for this but I have been unimpressed with Zingerman's Roadhouse. In my experience the bread fights back when you try to eat it. I don't think a lot of vegetarians are going to be hitting this post up but Seva is the most depressing kind of vegetarian restaurant, the sort that pretends everything has meat in it—and not very well.

Drankin'

I want to watch football on sixty TVs.

This is a shameful thing but the best place in town to watch sports at a bar is Buffalo Wild Wings. The TV situations at the local sports bars (the Arena and Cubs AC, most prominently) are totally unacceptable for watching multiple games. I'm talking wavy, dim, 20-year-old projection TVs.

Bar Louie is another solid option; that's another chain but they have a much better beer selection and better food than BWW. Also, they have not made you want to put your fist through a TV with their ads. Actually, forget I said anything about BWW. Go to Bar Louie. If it's full, BWW is your second option. If that's full, the bar area at the Arena is workable. They're all within a couple blocks of each other.

I have a favorite Russian Imperial Stout.

ashleys-bar

you call that a bar? this is a bar.

Michigan isn't Oregon but it has a booming microbrew scene, of which Ann Arbor is a major participant. You will be able to find two to four varieties of Bell's on tap virtually everywhere, and many places will have New Holland or Founder's.

If you're just drinking, Ashley's is the place to go. With over 100 taps and a zillion bottles they will have something you like. Unfortunately, the menu no longer describes Labatt Blue as "bland perfumy sweetness," but it used to. That's the kind of place we're talking about. Heavy grad student population; fairly popular with undergrads. Food is substandard except for the Stilton fries, which rock.

Jolly Pumpkin opened a brewpub on Main a couple years ago. Their beer is good but there aren't a ton of options and they're often out of what they do have. The food is trying really hard to be gourmet but is not well executed. I was excited about them; one of these days they will Get It.

Grizzly Peak is more of a restaurant than a pub but they do brew their own beer and it's quality. Tends to be overrun, though. It's where students take their parents. Avoid if it's parents' weekend. And Bar Louie does have a surprisingly good beer selection for a chain.

I have a hard-won loathing for Arbor Brewing Company. Their Irish stout has no head. They make pine beer that tastes like soap to the point of undrinkability. Hit their Olde 22 Ale at the wrong point and it will taste like cigarettes. The rest of their beers have something just… off about them. Unless you need to hit on grad students who really enjoy organizing labor, stay away.

I am an undergrad, possibly one wearing an Affliction shirt.

Any of the bars on South University will be up your alley: Mitch's, Touchdown's, The Brown Jug, Good Time Charley's. [UPDATE: Apparently the former two no longer exist.] The latter two are less fratty; all are heavily undergrad. Charley's is a good place to go if there's a USMNT game you want to see. Your other main option is Scorekeeper's. They're all the same place. Rick's is as close as you'll get to Jersey Shore in AA.

If you want to rub up against ladies who are not interested in rubbing back, Necto is the primary nightclub in town. There are others farther from campus. I hear tell there was a mechanical bull but I think that place went under.

I'm tired and I want something as mellow as possible.

Old Town is usually your best bet for a relaxed drink on a crowded night. Service and beer selection is good, they can pour a drink, and… hey… free peanuts. Very townie bar.

I want a martini in a dark place that kind of makes me feel like a spy.

Babs' is your jam. The Ravens Club also does nice cocktails and I hear tell after a being a crushed-ice-in-your-martini kind of place the Alley Bar has undergone reform.

Comments

bdsisme

August 24th, 2011 at 1:37 PM ^

If you just want to stay in, take 2 cups cooked rice, assorted vegetables, 1 or 2 lbs. hoisin sauce, soy sauce, ground red pepper, and  sesame oil.  Stir fry vegetables for 1 to 2 minutes over high heat. add rice, sauce, mix well. Stir fry for a minute more. Serves four.

ecormany

August 24th, 2011 at 1:37 PM ^

fantastic summary.  could have used it before i made a couple (rare) stops in A^2 this summer.  looks like there's a lot of new, quality stuff since when i graduated in 2007.  in three meals i did manage to hit BTB, Silvio's, and Blimpy Burger.

also, whoever mentioned it before, i second Afternoon Delight for a brunch option.  they do a good eggs benedict (with interesting variations, including smoked salmon), with half the wait of Angelo's.

UAUM

August 24th, 2011 at 1:40 PM ^

This might be Brian's finest analysis yet!  Highly useful.  Can't wait to come back in town for the ND game and hit up all the new eateries with friends.

Credit812

August 24th, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

Several people have mentioned Casey's -- great pub food.  It's small and can get kinda crowded at busy times, but service is usually top notch, and they have good daily specials.

Knight's Inn over by Vets Park feels like an old-time moose lodge in its decor, but has great prime rib, pork chops, and just about any other classic meat and potatos type of food.  They have a bar in the center of the restaurant with a number of TVs always turned to sports,so its a reasonable game day alternative.

Maximinus Thrax

August 24th, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

I really appreciated this piece.  I moved away in 2002 after about 6 years in AA.  I have been back for a few games, but since I have a wife and 2 young children I have not had an opportunity to really check out the new restaurants in town.  It looks like a lot of great places have opened up in the last 9 years (and also that a lot has stayed the same).  I defo need to check out Frita Batidos and the Ravens Club.  I am sure Mattison likes that last place a lot.  Agreed on the Zingerman's Roadhouse.  I took my family there for breakfast about 2 years ago. $60 bucks later I was wonderng WTF happened.  I guess I should have known, Zingerman's being what it is.  We should have just gone to the Northside.    

A general comment on AA though is that since I have left, some serious gentrification has occurred.  It was never a run-down college town by any means, but now, at least downtown, it is quite a bit more upsacle. There are a lot of new high rise apartments and restaurants that at least as a student I could never have afforded.  I guess all of the old places I like are still there too though for the kids that can't call home and have $500 deposited in their bank account for mad $$.  As a whole, it just seems more megalopolisy.

msoccer10

August 24th, 2011 at 2:17 PM ^

And its not just Main Street. It used to be the only tall apartment buildings were U towers and that one on Williams near State. They were both run down shitholes. Now there is a new five story building on East U and a bunch downtown. State Street/Liberty has lost its bookstores (RIP Shaman Drum) and record stores which have been replaced with chain restaurants (5 Guys, Ben and Jerry's, Chipotle, Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, 7-eleven) and hipster clothing stores. I miss the way it used to be.

Maximinus Thrax

August 24th, 2011 at 3:02 PM ^

Shit.  I wonder what the rent is like up there.  When I was there it seemed to go up like $100/month every year.  My last place (Arbor Village across from WCC) ran over $900/month.  I can only imagine that 2 bedroom apts. near campus must run well over $1,000/month.  No place for a broke ass yooper student to live these days I am afraid.

Huma

August 24th, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

Zingerman's Roadhouse is by far the best thing going in Ann Arbor - other than Zingerman's deli, that is (although Maize & Blue is great too).  The chef at Zingerman's Roadhouse won a James Beard award as the best chef in the midwest.  I would put the Roadhouse up against any top restaurant in NY, Chicago, Vegas, etc. at the same price point in terms of quality of food and overall value.  It is the crown jewel of Ann Arbor restaurants.

 

 

 

 

maracle

August 24th, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

I don't know, I hear this from some people.  I went three times when it first opened, and the food was mediocre each time.  But hey, maybe just hiccups since it was new.  I should give it another shot...

bdsisme

August 24th, 2011 at 1:43 PM ^

Cafe Zola, Logan, The Grange, Ravens Club, Prickly Pear, Zingerman's Roadhouse, Ashleys?

 

Methinks that mgoblog is pulling in plenty of revenue.

white_pony_rocks

August 24th, 2011 at 1:44 PM ^

the smelt and the fresh fried conch fritters at fritas are only seasonal so anybody who got excited about smelt in AA will have to wait until next year.  also grange is the only place in town i have found shorts sustenance (not counting liquor stores)

blueguard5

August 24th, 2011 at 1:49 PM ^

your description of necto is perfect. i hate that place, i actually hate clubs in general.

i do take my parents to grizzly peak, so i chuckled at that one too.

The Squid

August 25th, 2011 at 10:35 AM ^

"Steve" sold the business to the Rich JC people probably 6 years ago. I was honestly actually upset when I walked over there for lunch one day and realized that changes were afoot. Had to happen eventually, but it was still a major bummer. Rich JC isn't bad (and hey - you can get a side of Jesus with your bi bim bap) but it just isn't the same.

white_pony_rocks

August 24th, 2011 at 1:52 PM ^

satchels is bringing food to the wolvering tap room out on stadium behind great lakes cycle and fitness.  my roommate and gf swear by their wolverine dark, the roommate claims it is better than belair brown, which i dont believe, but they have couches and darts and bbq on the weekends now

Mgobowl

August 24th, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

I'm partial to Afternoon Delight rather than Angelo's. I thought Angelo's was overhyped when I was there, but maybe that was due to a lack of Hollandaise sauce.

Maizeforlife

August 24th, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

I'd say this list is pretty good.  Although I would add Afternoon Delight to the list.  Cloverleaf isn't all that good and honestly I'm surprised they've managed to stay in business all these years.  But the Meat Boule smothered in hollandaise at Afternoon Delight is a hell of a way to start the day.

Seth

August 24th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

Cloverleaf = pancakes and a coffe for like $3.00 is why they've stuck around so long. AD is awesome (and mucho appreciated during Passover) but I had few breakfasts there because I always felt it was necessary to shower before going in. Cloverleaf if you weren't hung over and looking ragged the weird people who hung out at the bar in the front room would look at you strange.

MGoShtoink

August 24th, 2011 at 2:00 PM ^

They give you enough for dinner, plus you can eat it cold at 2 am!

What about the Bell's pickup special?  Very reasonably priced, OK pizza.  A great choice for late night dining.

avendittelli

August 24th, 2011 at 2:11 PM ^

and always try to make it to AA once per trip. Hit up Jolly Pumpkin last night, no issues with a lack of what we were looking for. Oro de Calabaza was terrific as advertised. It was a weekday night however, so insert your own exceptions here.

Cafe habana around the corner was also fantastic, delicious cuban food and a terrific goat cheese app everyone should try if they choose to go.

Wendyk5

August 24th, 2011 at 2:12 PM ^

I feel compelled to say that I miss the old Pizza House, before it became a fireplace restaurant.  It was in the same location, but in a small frame house with a counter and a handful of tables. All they had were chipatis and pizza. My housemate worked there and she'd bring home all the reject dough that didn't form perfect chipati pockets. We lived on those things. The new Pizza House feels too slick and the original chipati is nothing like the original original. Still go there, but the old one was classic. 

goblueram

August 24th, 2011 at 2:18 PM ^

I always hear about people getting it at Pizza House, but have never tried or seen it.  Just looked online and it is saying Indian flatbread.  I don't know how flatbread could be so exciting, or fit in at an italian place.  

Seth

August 24th, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

Salad inside a pita.

Roll out some pita dough (regular or whole wheat) and throw it in the oven.

On a paper plate put...

  • Luttuce
  • Tomato
  • Green pepper
  • Red pepper
  • Mushrooms
  • Cheese
  • Chipati sauce

When the pita has risen to look like a ball, take it out and let it sit for about 1 minute (let it stay bloated because this makes the inside of the pita moist and bready). Then cut off about 1/5 of the pita off one side to make the "breadstick" open the pita pocket you have left, and using the paper plate put the salad into it.

Voila: Chipati.

Pizza Bob's and Pizza House have a 30-year war between them on who "invented" the chipati.

Wendyk5

August 24th, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

A chipati is a type of Indian flatbread. In the case of Pizza House and Pizza Bob's, it's a round pita-like bread that's split open horizontally and stuffed with salad. The chipati mystique grew back in the 80's, and they started putting different kinds of salads inside the bread. But the original had lettuce, green pepper, mushrooms, grated mozzarella, carrots, all finely chopped and served with the famous Pizza House dressing. It was like heroin, it was so addictive. The bread part was always warm, and the salad was cold, and the whole thing was magical. There's a place in Chicago called Pockets that I believe was opened by a guy who went to U of M. Their chipatis are the closest to the original that I have seen.